Today is the 48th anniversary of the National Chicano Moratorium protest which began August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, which attracted as many as 30,000 people to protest the drafting of young Mexican Americans into the Vietnam War.
On account of the lack of educational and vocational opportunities extended to Mexican Americans because of persisting racial discrimination of that era, our people were most often being denied deferments from the war. And consequently it became clearly evident to the public that our brown-skinned young people were being disproportionately sent to the front lines as cannon fodder for this war. So in the face of this reality, our people began to protest. They fiercely organized when they realized that Latinos accounted for about 20% of the wartime deaths in Vietnam while making up less than 5% of the population of our country at the time.
The protest was organized by local college students and activists from the Brown Berets.
However, it should be noted that the National Chicano Moratorium had a multi-racial backing and presence on the front-line of this protest. As you will see in pictures and film from the events, there are also black and white people standing in solidarity with the Chicano anti-war movement.
In the police violence that ensued, Ruben Salazar, then the news director of KMEX Channel 34 and a Los Angeles Times columnist, he would be killed by the sheriff’s department.
However, our dear Ruben Salazar would not be the only death in the actions known as the moratorium, actions which raged for months; there would be four deaths in total; among the dead were three other people. One is Lyn Ward, who was a Brown Berets “medic” who was killed when a burning trash can containing combustibles exploded; and also another Chicano simply identified as José “Angel” Diaz.
And the fourth fallen person was a person who did not identify as a Chicano at all. In-fact the oral legends and passing historical accounts identified him as a Jewish college student from East Los Angeles.
This is how the account is generally remembered (taken from Wikipedia):
“Some of the deaths seemed accidental but Gustav Montag got into direct confrontation with the police, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Its front-page article the next day recounted that several protesters faced police officers with drawn rifles at the end of an alley, shouting, and kept their ground, even when ordered to disperse. The article stated that Montag was picking up pieces of broken concrete and throwing them at the officers, who opened fire. Montag died at the scene from gunshot wounds. The police officers later said that they had aimed over his head in order to scare him off. A photo accompanied this article, showing Montag’s body being carried away by several brothers. Montag was not a Chicano, but a Sephardic Jew who was supporting the movement.”
I have spent a few years investigating this account, trying to authenticate this story.
What I have found out is that while this story might be true, it seems that it might have at least one fact wrong. The student is identified as a Sephardic Jew; and to some eastside people this would have seemed to have made sense to them as to why he might join in such a movement; if he was a Jew of Spanish extraction.
Though as a Sephardic Jew myself, this doesn’t sound exactly right.
The name Gustav Montag, both the first and last name, suggests that he was actually an Ashkenazi Jew, of German Jewish roots. And I can tell you with great certainly that we did have Ashkenazi Jewish families by the name of Montag who had lived in the area for generations already; some buried in East Los Angeles Cemeteries.
So it appears to me that this mysterious martyr of the National Chicano Moratorium was quite possibly not a Sephardic Jew, as the urban legend tells the story, but instead a white Ashkenazi Jew; a white Jewish young man who joined in the solidarity with the Chicano movement, as leftist Jews had since Chicano student organizing began back in 1963.
This seems to been confirmed by the original Los Angeles Times article I just found. This news report is actually taken from the fourth and final moratorium march, held several months into the movement on February 2, 1971:
“The Toll of Sunday’s outbreak:
Dead: Gustav Montag, Jr., 24, a native of Sternowitz, Austria, who lived with relatives at 2208 Tuller Road. A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department said he was evidently struck by a ricocheting gunshot pellet that pierced his heart.
The coroners office said Montag had recently dropped out of East Los Angeles College, where he had been enrolled in a Hebrew course.”
The death of Gustav Montag death would shock his comrades and the public. His death would ultimately become the last death of the Chicano moratorium; tragically ending this series of marches on the same sour note with which they had begun, with the brutal killing of unarmed protesters; in a cruel display of an excessive use of force against the largely peaceful demonstrators.
In the past couple years I had many people retell this story to me and inquire about where this martyr of the movement is buried, though I have not yet been able to locate the resting place of the martyr Gustav Montag (z”l). I hope to one day be able to fill in the details of this story, and pay my respects at his resting place if such a site exists.
Rest in power martyrs of the National Chicano Moratorium… Ruben Salazar, Lyn Ward, José “Angel” Diaz… and our Jewish brother Gustav Montag.
Film from the events of the National Chicano Moratorium:
Note: In this film “Chicano Moratorium: A Question of Freedom“, by Loyola-Marymount film student Tom Myrdahl which captures the events, it opens with my dear friend John Ortiz, que descanse en paz, marching with pride on the horizon of change. John passed away this passed year. Rest in power, our friend and “professor”!